There are few places in North America where you can feel the presence of history more than in Québec City, the largest walled city north of Mexico.
So it’s fitting that the capital of Canada’s most populous French-speaking province has so many excellent museums to provide context. From military exhibits detailing the brutality of the 18th-century Seven Years’ War to a Catholic hospital showcasing the history of medicine to several fascinating Indigenous collections, this is a wonderful place to go museum hopping, whether you’re there for a weekend or forever.
Here are the best museums in Québec City.
Compare and contrast the cultures of French Canada and the First Nations at Musée de Civilisation
One of the most visited museums in Canada, Québec City’s Museum of Civilization interprets the history of New France as well as Québec’s Indigenous peoples. The huge interactive exhibits alone are worth the price of admission, especially the Indigenous-focused “This is Our Story” display, which showcases stories from Québec’s population of Aboriginal peoples which is 95,000 strong. There are also rotating temporary exhibitions usually worth checking out.
Get arty at Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec
Covering four buildings on the Plains of Abraham, Québec’s fine arts museum features 40,000 works of art, including a beautiful collection of Inuit pieces (the Manasie Akpaliapik exhibition of 40 Inuit sculptures is particularly striking). Temporary exhibitions feature major works by internationally famous artists; recent shows have displayed pieces by Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Isamu Noguchi and others.
Visit Musée Huron-Wendat to learn about Indigenous culture
Nearly 30 minutes north of Québec City is Wendake, home to two urban reservations that welcome visitors to learn about the Huron and Wendat peoples. The Huron-Wendat Museum here displays a small collection of artifacts including moccasins, canoes, baskets and wonderful headdresses. While in Wendake, also be sure to visit Onhoüa Chetek8e, a reconstructed Huron village. If you’re there in the evening, you should also check out Onhwa’ Lumina, the new light show and night walk from renowned international exhibitor Moment Factory.
Salute the troops at Musée Royal 22e Régiment (La Citadelle)
Situated on Cape Diamand, the highest point in Québec City, La Citadelle is a huge military fortress on the Unesco World Heritage List. At the center of nearly 300 years of history, La Citadelle is today both the second official residence of the governor general, the Canadian representative to the Queen of England, and a garrison for the Canadian Army’s Royal 22nd Regiment, the country’s only predominantly French-language unit. The fortress is a sight to behold on its own – and the museum inside its ramparts is also worthwhile, packed with period uniforms, weapons and more than 300 medals, decorations and orders awarded to the regiment.
See Québec City in miniature at Musée du Fort
In front of Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, this small museum features a 30-minute sound-and-light show that brings to life the six sieges of Québec City during the Seven Years’ War, including the battle of the Plains of Abraham. The museum’s highlight: a 430-square-foot model of the city and its outlying regions as they appeared in 1750. (You’ll note that the Old Town hasn’t changed much.)
Feel the history at Musée des Plaines d’Abraham
In a 17th-century Catholic seminary, this three-floor museum commemorates the 1759 battle between Britain and France that ultimately decided Canada’s linguistic fate. In the museum, you’ll find 450,000 artifacts, including period uniforms. A solid multimedia show explains how the battles went down from four different viewpoints: French, British, Canadian and First Nations. After the museum, have a stroll around the 242-acre park and lovely gardens that have been landscaped on the former battleground.
See how schoolgirls used to study at Pôle Culturel du Monastère des Ursulines
Founded in 1639 as one of the first schools for girls on the continent, this multi-level museum explores the history of the Ursuline nuns and their dedication to education. Over three floors and five exhibitions (three temporary and two permanent), the museum displays what life was like for the schoolgirls through art, musical instruments and preserved classrooms and bedrooms. The chapel is a highlight and features spectacular religious art, including intricate golden leaves created by the nuns themselves.
Contemplate the history of medicine at le Monastère des Augustines
Housed in the first hospital built in the Americas north of Mexico, Le Monastère des Augustines is a fascinating ode to the evolution of medicine over three centuries. Some 50,000 religious artifacts and medical tools from the Augustinian Sisters’ 12 monastery hospitals show how far health care has come. A temporary exhibit running until May 2024, “Re-connect,” is an engaging reflection on the history of well-being. The Monastère also hosts guests at its luxurious hotel and the hotel’s health-focused restaurant, Le Vivoir.
Get locked up (temporarily) at Centre Morrin
Originally a French military barracks and jail for British prisoners of war, the Centre Morrin is now a museum showcasing life inside one of the continent’s first prisons. Guided tours takes visitors through the more than 200-year-old prison cells. The complex also contains a gorgeous Victorian library with some 27,000 English-language books.